Illinois Public Media News
In Champaign County, County Clerk Gordy Hulten says voter turnout looked pretty good Tuesday morning.
Hulten has spent the morning touring polling places, and comparing the traffic to the last presidential primary in 2008. Hulten isn't sure if today's turnout will surpass the more than 39,000 ballots cast four years ago - but he says he's still hoping to reach 35,000.
Hulten says almost 31-hundred of those ballots have already been cast during early and absentee voting.
"I think our early and absentee totals were a little higher than they were four years ago. And I think some of that may have been that the election is Spring Break Week," Hulten said. "And we have people who knew they were going to be out of town, so they took advantage of early and absentee voting.
Hulten says one of the busiest polling places today is in Champaign Township Precinct Five, in unincorporated southwest Champaign. That's where residents of two fire protection districts are considering tax increase referenda.
Only minor problems are being reported from Illinois polling places several hours into the primary election.
A power outage in Wheeling caused voters to use paper ballots in several precincts. One Chicago precinct may stay open an hour later because of a problem delivering ballots.
Election officials in several areas say turnout has been very light so far.
The unusually warm weather is pleasing to poll watchers working outside. Cook County Clerk David Orr says instead of freezing, they're "happy as clams.'' Voters are weighing in on presidential nominees in the Republican primary. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum campaigned in Illinois on Monday.
Voters also are deciding on congressional and legislative races that could shape Illinois politics for years to come.
Meanwhile, voters in central Illinois are taking advantage of the rare chance to weigh in on a presidential nomination before anyone has it locked up.
Richard Zellers of St. Joseph, just east of Champaign, says he voted for one reason: In his words, "to get President Obama out.'' The retired Kraft foods worker says he voted for Rick Santorum. But he adds that "if a frog was running against Obama'' he'd vote for the frog.
Santorum campaigned in Illinois on Monday, and the former Pennsylvania senator pleaded with supporters to head for the polls and take other people with them. It was an acknowledgment that a big turnout by anti-Mitt Romney conservatives was key to him winning in a state that's traditionally been friendlier to moderates.
Polls are open until 7 p.m. across the state.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Indiana's governor Monday morning signed the state's first-ever anti-smoking bill into law at a public ceremony at the statehouse in Indianapolis.
Smoking won't be welcome at Indiana restaurants, but smokers need not to worry - there will still be plenty of places to light up in the Hoosier state, and restaurants have time to prepare for the change; the ban doesn't go into effect until July 1. Smokers will still be able to get their fix in Indiana casinos, bars, cigar shops and private clubs.
Gov. Mitch Daniels said he understands the bill won't please critics who wanted a stronger law, but he said it was important to get something on the books while lawmakers were in the mood.
"Indiana has wrestled for a long time in how to protect public health, employees in particular and public spaces against the hazards of second-hand smoke," Daniels said. "It's been a very, very long march. Lots of interests that need to be balanced."
Daniels credited state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) with getting the measure past the finish line. Brown had spent six years advocating for a smoking ban.
"Got to say, Charlie, I'm really happy for you. You have worked so long and so tirelessly on this and never gave up," Daniels said. "I hope you feel you've achieved a really great thing here."
The number of exemptions has proven to be a controversial issue, though, especially among groups critical of smoking. Amanda Estridge, lobbiest and spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society of Indianapolis, said her organization did not support the final legislation.
"It's much harder to change a bill once it becomes law," Estridge said. "We don't agree that something is better than nothing."
Estridge said the law does not protect the 17,000 people who are employed by Indiana's gambling industry. She added Indiana spends $3.8 billion a year on smoking-related health care costs, with 11,000 annual deaths being attributed to the habit.
John Livengood is the president of the Indiana Restaurant Association. He said for most restaurants, the smoking ban is a good thing.
"I've always encouraged (businesses) to try because for most restaurants, it does not hurt their business," Livengood said. "In fact, it may help their business."
Livengood also heads the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association. He said hotel rooms may have a tough time enforcing the smoking ban since it's difficult to control what goes on in a hotel room.
The ban takes effect in July.
Former Champaign Mayor Virgil Wikoff is being remembered as someone who served as a voice of reason during a turbulent time in the U.S.
Wikoff passed away Friday at the age of 85 after a long illness. After being elected the city council in 1963, he served as mayor from 1967 through 1975, and also served three terms in the Illinois House.
Former Champaign Mayor Dan McCollum says he'll most remember Wikoff talking to a packed Bethel AME Church on the night Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated.
"It was a nice gesture to not only show sympathy and understanding, but I think relate to a significant portion of the population," McCollum said. "It was very, very disturbed what had happened. Of course, I don't think that the black community were the only people terribly disturbed about what had happened. Clearly, that was where the mayor needed to show up, and he did."
McCulloum says Wikoff also sought to maintain order during movements near the University of Illinois campus tied to the Vietnam War. He says the two had different views politically, but says he also developed sympathy for what a predecessor to the office of mayor had to deal with.
Services for Virgil Wikoff will be at 10 Friday morning at the Morgan Memorial Home in Savoy, with burial in Maroa cemetery. Visitation is from 5 to 7 on Thursday.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives)
An increasingly confident Mitt Romney called President Barack Obama an "economic lightweight" Monday as the Republican presidential candidate looked beyond Tuesday's Illinois primary to a general election showdown with the incumbent Democrat.
Romney's chief rival - Rick Santorum - kept the focus on the GOP front-runner, arguing that nominating the former Massachusetts governor would deprive the party of a defining issue to use against Obama in the November election - health care. "Obamacare," Santorum said, was based on "Romneycare," Massachusetts' 2006 health care law.
Courting voters in Obama's home state, Romney acknowledged that the economy was moving in the right direction as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped and consumer confidence has jumped. Romney suggested it was in spite of the president.
"The economy always comes back after a recession of course," said Romney, previewing what could be a general election argument. "There's never been one that we didn't recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been."
The former venture capitalist said he's better equipped to steer the economy.
"There are dramatic differences between me and President Obama," Romney said during a morning campaign stop at Charlie Parker's diner in Springfield. "I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is."
Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Santorum's shoestring operation.
Brushing aside skepticism from the party's right flank, Romney aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates - the number needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Barack Obama in the fall.
Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner.
"I looked at the leading candidate for president on the Republican side and I said 'He can't be the nominee,'" Santorum told several hundred people at the Venetian Club in Rockford. "He can't be the nominee because he would take away from the Republican Party in this crucial election, the most important in your lifetime, he would take away the central issue in this campaign. He is uniquely disqualified to go and make the case against Obamacare because he developed the blueprint for Obamacare."
In 2006, then-Massachusetts Gov. Romney instituted a sweeping health care system in the state that required everyone to have insurance. It was the model for Obama's divisive health care overhaul that he signed into law two years ago this Friday.
"Why Illinois would you consider voting for someone for president on the Republican side who is for Romneycare, the blueprint for Obamacare, and for government mandates?" Santorum asked. ".... . He will give every single important issue on this subject matter away. There is no difference between the two."
He also accused Romney of forcing Catholic hospitals to provide the morning-after pill when he was governor. Santorum argued that the pill "caused abortion."
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Romney signed a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that he supported using state tax dollars to fund abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women, according to a copy of the questionnaire. He also pledged support for increased access to emergency contraception such as the "morning-after pill," which he now condemns as an "abortive pill."
Santorum said that he'll "go out and compete in every state," calling Illinois a "two-person race."
"What I've said is, I think it's going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get that magic number" to clinch the nomination, Santorum said in an interview on CBS's "This Morning."
Santorum called Romney a "big-government heavyweight," responding on MSNBC Monday to the former Massachusetts governor's recent assertion that he couldn't match up on economic expertise. Santorum told CBS he thinks the chances of a brokered GOP convention in August "are increasing."
In nationally broadcast remarks Sunday, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of delegates.
Romney aides privately likened the situation to the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who loses his arms and legs in battle with King Arthur but insists he has only a flesh wound. The Romney camp suggested that Tuesday's performance would extend Romney's delegate advantage, even if he loses the popular vote.
Santorum cannot win at least 10 of the state's 54 delegates because his campaign failed to file the paperwork.
Polls suggest a Romney edge in Illinois. At a Romney campaign stop Sunday, voters were divided.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum, but I wanted to hear him in person," said Nichole Warren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from nearby South Beloit. "I hear (Romney) talk and I hear a lot of Obama in him, and that scares me."
But Sid Haffenden, a 61-year-old retired toll-way worker, said, "Santorum has too much baggage." He added, "I want a businessman."
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.
Including Puerto Rico's results, Romney has now collected 521 delegates, compared to Santorum's 253, Gingrich's 136 and Paul's 50, according to The Associated Press count.
(Photo by Brian Mackey/IPR)
The price of regular-grade gasoline is as high as $4.09 a gallon in Champaign-Urbana. Area gas stations started raising their prices last Friday, as University of Illinois students prepared to leave for spring break.
Patrick DeHaan of the price-tracking site GasBuddy.com says the $4 price mark is a significant one ... which retailers usually avoid as long as they can.
"You know, there's a lot of negative PR associated with it", says DeHann, "and the station gets a lot of fingers pointed at them. So generally the station would be willing to accept less profit to keep the price down. But unfortunately when it comes to be too much, when push comes to shove, stations will raise their price over that mark, if they absolutely have to." Now that they've reached the $4 point in Champaign-Urbana, DeHaan says motorists can expect prices to decrease --- but only in the short-term.
"After prices go up across a widespread area, they tend to go down in the days following", says DeHaan. "But I do expect the long-term trend will remain upward. So, for the Champaign-Urbana area, we'll see the roller-coaster ride continue. Prices will go up sharply, and they may go down a few days after, then they may go up even higher."
DeHaan advises motorists to put off buying from gas stations that have just raised their prices ... because it's likely that prices will start going down again. He expects gasoline prices to continue rising through May, with some dropoff possible in June.
DeHaan says gasoline prices in Champaign-Urbana are following a trend that's common throughout the Great Lakes states. He says the higher prices are due to several factors, including problems with a Midwest pipeline, retooling and maintenance at oil refineries and concerns among oil speculators about possible conflict with Iran.
Indiana's first statewide smoking restrictions have been signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The governor signed the smoking ban bill and other legislation during a ceremony Monday at his Statehouse office. The smoking ban proposal narrowly cleared the state Senate this month after compromises expanding the number of exemptions were added to the bill over the objections of health advocates.
Daniels says that although everyone might not have been happy with the bill, it was best to get something approved while lawmakers had the "energy'' to handle the issue.
The ban that is to take effect in July will still give people plenty of places to light up as it exempts Indiana's bars, casinos, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.
Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are campaigning in next-up primary states of Illinois and Louisiana, while Puerto Ricans get their say in picking the GOP's presidential nominee.
Puerto Rico's residents cannot vote in general elections, but are set to award 20 delegates in their Sunday Republican primary.
Meanwhile, Romney was hoping to cement his lead in Illinois ahead of Tuesday's primary, with chief rival Santorum in Louisiana ahead of that state's vote on March 24.
Both Santorum and Romney weighed in on Afghanistan as the campaign briefly moved to the Sunday morning talk shows.
Romney said that President Barack Obama has failed in Afghanistan, and he blamed the president for the chaos there. Romney told "Fox News Sunday" that the president should have been "more engaged" with military commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The former Massachusetts governor has emerged as the only Republican candidate not to question the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, even as polls show that most Americans want to end it.
On ABC's "This Week" that Santorum said the U.S. should commit to "winning" in the region or get out, echoing comments rival Newt Gingrich made last week.
The former Massachusetts governor and former Pennsylvania senator both campaigned in Puerto Rico ahead of the voting.
But Romney dramatically curtailed his trip to the U.S. territory Saturday in favor of spending more time in Illinois, where polls have shown him slightly ahead of Santorum.
At issue in Puerto Rico's primary is the island's political status - statehood, independence or no change. Puerto Ricans will vote on that in November.
Romney has support from much of the establishment here, including Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, who supports making the island the 51st state. Romney is confident about his prospects for winning many of the island's delegates.
Santorum has said he would support statehood if the November vote were decisive. He also has spent days explaining his comment that English would have to become the island's main language for Puerto Rico to realize statehood. Only a fraction of Puerto Rico's residents speak English fluently.
Puerto Rico's delegates will be split proportionally among the candidates, though if someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote they'll sweep them all.
(Photos courtesy of The Associated Press)
(With additional reporting from Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has appointed state Senator Connie Lawson to replace ousted Secretary of State Charlie White.
Prior to the announcement, Lawson served as a state senator since 1996. Before that, she served as court clerk in Hendricks County. According to Gov. Daniels, it's those experiences that make her a good fit for the position.
"She's also been a real ally in the quest for local government reform, which takes a certain amount of courage and reformist zeal," Daniels said.
Lawson, who is the second woman to hold the office, will serve the remainder of White's term, which runs until 2015. She said she is ready to get to work.
"I look forward to getting started, meeting the dedicated men and women in the various divisions of the office, and working with them to ensure that the Secretary of State's office is as efficient and effective as it can be," Lawson said.
Lawson's appointment comes a day after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that White's 2010 candidacy was valid despite his conviction on voter fraud and other felony charges.
Gov. Daniels said even though the Secretary of State's office has seen 'less than ideal' circumstances following White's removal, the staff will make a smooth transition to Lawson's leadership.
"I don't have the impression that there'll be a big cleanup effort necessary, but Connie will put her own stamp on the place and I'm sure pretty quickly," he added.
Interim Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet is returning to his role as Deputy Secretary of State.
Democrats hoped Vop Osili would have gotten the job, but the Indiana Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Charlie White was eligible to run in 2010. This gave Daniels the ability to appoint a replacement, rather than putting runner-up Osili in office.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk got a phone call from the Senate's top Republican wishing him well in his recovery from a January stroke.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Kirk on Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk is recovering.
McConnell says he assured his colleague their staffs were working together to represent the interests of Illinois in the Senate.
He says Kirk was eager to discuss policy during the call, especially his push to tighten sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear work.
McConnell says the Senate is looking forward to having him back.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
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